How to Trash Talk

10.21.2005 | 3:46 pm

Yesterday, I bought a ticket to Salt Lake City. So now there’s no backing out. I’m going to Fall Moab 2006 (or, if you’re one of the few people in the world who still thinks in terms of calendar years rather than fiscal, you can quaintly call it "Fall Moab 2005"). Fall Moab is an annual event where an increasingly large group (close to 20 this year, it looks like) of mountain biking buddies gets together and goes riding for three days in and around Moab, UT — the desert MTB capital of the universe.

This means I need to get a mountain bike, pronto. It means that I’m going to have to shave my legs again. It means I’m going to get banged up, and cut up: it happens to every single one of us, every single year. And it means I’m going to have more fun than I do at any other event of the year.

Most importantly, though, it means I need to brush up on my trash-talking skills.


Why is Trash Talking Important?

Know this: When a group of cyclists gets together for what they call a “friendly group ride,” they’re speaking in code. What they actually mean is, “We’re getting together to bare our teeth and snarl at each other for fifteen minutes, after which we will climb on our bikes and see who is the alpha cyclist — the dominant rider of the pack, the one who chooses the course, who picks the pace, who keeps the other wolves in line.”

You see, the group ride isn’t just a group riding together. It’s an important ritual, an essential component of which is the pre-ride (and sometimes, during-ride) trash talking. It’s during the pre-ride trash talking that you discover other riders’ intentions. Who is in contention? Who is weak? Who can be damaged psychologically before the ride, making them more susceptible to a bluff attack during the ride?

It’s a beautiful dance, really. And I’m sadly out of practice.


Techniques for Beginners

I’ve done some research into cyclist trash talking behavior, and have uncovered some patterns even novices can use to good effect.

  • Feigned concern: “You’ve had a hard time keeping up lately. Are you OK? I can tell the group to go easy today if you want.” Or, “Man, that’s a pretty technical move; I don’t think I clean it more than six out of ten tries. You may want to skip it; you don’t want to get hurt.”
  • Cloaked boast: “Dude, that is a seriously nice bike. Every time I ride with you, I can’t help but admire that thing. How much does that thing weigh, sixteen pounds? Sheesh, that’s light. I wonder how I manage to keep up with you, what with my bike weighing around twenty pounds, and my goiter acting up.”
  • Anti-trash talk: “Could we go easy today? I just had a kidney removed, and am still a little sore. Plus, you guys look like you’re really strong — I’m not sure I can hang.” Important note: Do not use this technique unless you are certain that you can hang with the group, even if they ramp up into the red zone and stay there. If you miscalculate and your anti-trash talk turned out to be an accurate prediction of the day’s events, you will be known as a hangdog, whiney, weakling complainer.
  • Question and followup: “So, how are you feeling today?” (Wait for response.) “Seriously, you feel good? Because you look like you’ve gained some weight. I’m sure that’s just because you’re wearing a padded jacket, though.” (Wait for response.) “Oh, really? No padding at all? Well, that’s weird.”
  • Power play: “I look out at this group, and I see nothing that impresses me. Oh well, I guess I can treat this as a recovery day.” Important note: This is a risky technique. If you use this, be aware that anything apart from absolute domination will be perceived as failure.

Tips for Advanced Trash Talkers

There was a time when people used to remark that I was the meanest person they knew, once I actually started saying what I was thinking. In days of yore I have shut people down — so completely dumbfounded them with my trash talk that backing it up with performance on the bike seemed beside the point.

That, alas, was years ago. I am now so out of practice with advanced trash talking (I have young children who don’t exactly thrive on that kind of feedback), that I must rely primarily on other, more skilled trash talkers for these advanced techniques. Thanks (I guess) to Dug and Simeon, both of whom I no longer consider friends.

  • Post Mortem Trash Talk: Simeon, the guy who I rode with for most of the Issaquah Alps randonneuring event — until he shot off the front and demolished me in the final hour — sent me this e-mail the day following the ride:

I realized some time after the ride that you were actually suffering from a cold or worse (the dripping nose gave it away), but it was still good to finish ahead of you.

In one elegant sentence, Simeon reminded me that he cleaned my clock, said I looked gross, and provided me with an excuse we both knew wasn’t true; the implied subtext of the “proffered excuse ploy” is: “What? You didn’t have a cold? Well, why were you so slow, then?” This kind of masterful post mortem trash talk instills fear in your opponent (and let’s be clear: everyone is your opponent). This fear will grow and fester until — and beyond — the next ride. I am now terrified of Simeon.

  • Get Personal: If someone has a gut, use the gut to your advantage, even if man-with-gut is kicking your butt and dropping you. Ask probing questions: “Does your gut get in the way of your legs on the upstroke?” “Do you think you’d go faster if you lost some weight?” If your target does not respond, you can be confident both that he hears you and that you are being effective.
  • Do Not Back Down: If your target appears to be sensitive, this is not the time to back off. Run up the score. This is a good time to get experimental. Try some techniques you’ve been keeping until they’re ready.
  • Exploit Admitted Weaknesses: If your target acknowledges an actual, diagnosable problem that will slow him down, it’s time to lean in. For example, if he says, “Well, jeez, I just had a heart attack this afternoon and am taking beta blockers that slow me down quite a bit,” he has just made your job easier, not harder. Immediately respond by rolling your eyes and saying, "Oh, playing the heart attack card. Nice. You know, I have technically been a corpse for three months now. It’s never slowed me down.”
  • Acknowledge: If your opponent comes up with something ridiculously good, you have to recognize. It’s a community effort. Immediately incorporate the learned technique into your own arsenal.

Today’s weight: 159.4


  1. Comment by Unknown | 10.21.2005 | 4:16 pm

    This is a bit off topic, but it just occured to me — now that you’ve achieved your 160 plateau weight goal, isn’t it time to post another shirtless beefcake photo? You know, we never got to see that lipoma.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 10.21.2005 | 4:17 pm

    damn man. You are a really good comedy writer. I don’t know how you come up with funny stuff every single day.I smell sitcom.

  3. Comment by Unknown | 10.21.2005 | 4:31 pm

    Please NO more beefcake photos!!Ok, maybe after the legs are shaved…….Not for me ~ the lady’s of cyberspace. Really, it’s NOT for me.

  4. Comment by Robert Raleigh | 10.21.2005 | 4:57 pm

    Whew, sometimes it’s good to be reminded why I don’t do those Moab trips. I almost made the horrible mistake of coming this year.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 10.21.2005 | 5:10 pm

    This has nothing to do with trash talkin’, rather fatness. thought the Fat Cyclist would enjoy this sandwich!

  6. Comment by Unknown | 10.21.2005 | 5:35 pm

    robert, you are a whiny, slow-witted, uxorious coward. if you don’t come to moab, i will find you, and roll you through a prickley pear cactus patch. oh, wait, we did that last time you came to moab. i want my tweezers back.robert, you should come. you know you want to. you’ve got two weeks to get in shape.i love you man.

  7. Comment by Unknown | 10.21.2005 | 6:03 pm

    Har har, nice job, that was really funny. I liked the ‘post-mortem’ trash talking the best.

  8. Comment by Robert | 10.21.2005 | 6:39 pm

    Glad you’re coming to FallMoab2006 this year, Fatty. Remember, it’s about friendship, not competition. We’ll work with you. We’ll start out slow, like maybe the Slickrock practice loop. We’ll give you some pointers, remind you to stay hydrated, that kind of thing. You’ll be fine.

  9. Comment by Sun Goddess | 10.21.2005 | 7:51 pm

    I really liked this blog entry. Very funny. I always enjoy coming to your space.

  10. Comment by Jodi | 10.21.2005 | 8:24 pm

    I have an alternate plan, fatty:come to SLC and hang with me! I’m fun, I work hard, and The Husband will cook for us non-stop. I will force Junior to be cute as a button (or else!) and you can still trash talk to me….you can make fun of me because both you and Af-ghan-stan-tas-ick were featured BIG and I was featured small. You may trash talk my choice in clothing, and also the way that my dog smells. I will download some Rush and Ebn Ozn so we may relive our childhood glory. Are you in?

  11. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 10.21.2005 | 10:14 pm

    Fatty – watch out for the ‘get personal’-backfire – you risk life and limb if you trash talk the-man-with-the-gut. When he turns to confront you face to face, the gut protruding from the 270lb monster will most likely knock your 160lb ass fair across the carpark.On a completely different topic:I am the father of 3 cute (ask fatty) children, aged 4, 7 and 10. Am I a bad parent if the easiest way to clean the table after breakfast is with a vacuum?

  12. Comment by Ariane | 10.21.2005 | 11:22 pm

    Fatty, don’t listen to the Errorista! It’s totally a trap. She’s trying to lure you into a Muay Thai death match, using the "friendly fun" approach (which I can’t believe you didn’t list, though I guess it’s not really trash talking; it only makes you more susceptible to it). You know, the, "C’mon, it’ll be fun, just for the heck of it." And then you’re gasping and about to vomit as you complete yet another death climb, and your "fun" companion starts in with a "Feigned Concern"/"Question Follow-up" combo. Only in this case, it wouldn’t be a series of climbs, peppered with competition, but rather a cement floor, a ring, a steel cage around said ring, and the flying kicks of your sibling.

  13. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 10.22.2005 | 1:30 am

    Toad – Yesterdays comments has an answer to your Waltzing Matilda question.Fatty – Don’t fall for toad’s ploy. It’s a common put the true danger out in the open where it’s hard to see. He’s actually a covert agent working for errorista to goad you into a trap and maim you. ‘Your sister can clean your clock’ is a classic questioning-your-manhood ploy. There’s layers of trouble in there. Reverse, reverse, reverse psychology. I know she’s your sister and says she loves you, but she is probably nursing some deep-seated issues about you from childhood (they all do). Never expose your soft underbelly to a damaged sibling. Error – I hope this helps you nail him.If this all goes pear shaped, I’m sure GW can be encouraged to think that I’m a terrorist. So to save innocent lives just dial in 26.7241S 153.0667E and push the RED BUTTON.

  14. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 10.22.2005 | 2:08 am

    how about that gramma, she’s a shocka, ain’t she…lets try again Fatty – Don’t fall for toad’s ploy. It’s a common tactic to put the true danger out in the open where it’s so obvious it gets overlooked.

  15. Comment by Unknown | 10.22.2005 | 2:15 am

    Big Mike, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I take comments about my gut, usually covered by a stretched out XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXL Bianchi Liquigas Jersey, the equivalent of an American or Ozzie size 48-50 – as a motivator. Admittedly, I do have trouble on uphills. And in passing. I’m unable to pass German food buffets, Korean strip joints, or anything with a drink special. Or anybody on hills other than some of the slower decomposing sorts of roadkill. I usually let the fat comment go because it provides me with a classic opportunity for a stealthy and crushing attack later on. If they don’t drop me on the hills, I’ll brick’em on descents, hang and then some on the smaller rollers, and then hammer the stickboys in the flats. This riding pattern is accentuated on long, 75+ mile rides, but that’s only because I’m carrying roughly 150,000 calories of Hammer gel on my ass, gut, second chin and eyelids – the same reason a camel can haul ass around a desert, relative to Arabian thoroughbreds. The fat comment sets me up nicely on rides that are flat or mostly rolling, especially in any groups I haven’t really ridden with much before, or if a new guy is joining the LBS group ride. It’s effective enough that I’ve thought about having a friend make the comment, just to get other people thinking I’m a complete bloater and unable to hang. Usually, there’s only one or two stops on a longer, flat-ish ride – 45-50, and then at 80 or so if we’re headed to a hundred. I try to get to the front of the paceline so that I take up pulling position 2-3 miles out from that first rest stop, which always seems disproportionately far into the ride. When I get to the front, the pace is usually 20 – 22, max, and most of the folks on the ride are just dying, thinking only about a pee, water and food break. (Typical fat guy, I eat a lot while rolling. Always. So where we rest doesn’t make a white of difference to me.) So when I get to the front, I’ll turn to the guys nearest me and say something like "hey, we’re almost there. Let’s go, I want dibs on the crapper." I realize in a race it would be different, but on a club or other group ride, the other riders are usually too mentally incapacitated at that point to surge with me. So I up it to about 25-26, just a little short of my dead-flat-out pace, and roll off. Sometimes, one or two guys will roll with me in which case we really step it up – and then I find myself doing in an impromptu paceline which is even faster, but usually I can look in my dork mirror and see the rest of the paceline visibly slowing when I take off; you can even see wisps of morale wafting off the lead riders, like heat waves on asphalt. When everybody else arrives at the rest stop a half minute or minute after me, I make it a point to be sitting down, not panting, and chilling out generally. "Hey, I’m really sorry. I’m kind of new to the sport and I sometimes get a little overeager when I get up in the, um, whatcha call the front of that thing?" I never catch any shit after that. Of course it’s a total fraud on my part. I’m not dead in those pacelines, but I’m riding just a little below lactate threshold just like everybody else. So when I take off, I know I can’t hammer on my own more than two or three miles; the pack would suck me back in after that, and probably spit me out the back. But they don’t know that. All they know is that they were hot and sweaty, and thinking about nothing but stopping for a while, when all of a sudden the fat guy rolled out like he was spinning on an invisible downhill. Riding in the red zone for five or ten minutes isn’t a problem either, because when I’ve dropped the group going into the stop, they usually want to take an extra five minutes to get their act together… not knowing the smile on my face is actually lactic acid rictus. I usually don’t catch any crap about being fat after that; people wise up and start dissing my hill climbing ability, my frequent inadvertant elbow bumping, or my sad excuse for a personality instead. And once they know I will hurt them in the flats, they start pushing it right after we crest longer ascents, knowing I have nothing left in the tank right then… which of course triggers a whole new round of mutual insults and rolling warfare. With friends like this..

  16. Comment by Robert Raleigh | 10.22.2005 | 2:27 am

    Dug, I challenge you to a duel. Your seconds may call on my seconds. If my seconds aren’t in, have them go straight to my thirds.

  17. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 10.22.2005 | 2:42 am

    Al – which part don’t you get?

  18. Comment by EricGu | 10.22.2005 | 4:09 am

    A couple more (though I will admit to an being an amateur at these)."I had to work hard to catch up with you" (but I did, despite the fact that you were ahead)"You almost dropped me on that" (but you didn’t)The best, however, was related to me from somebody who rode with the late Larry Kemp up zoo hill. Larry was riding next to him, looked over at his bike, and said (I’m paraphrasing here), "You know, (Campy) record would be overkill for you. Chorus is better. Good choice!"And then he rode away up the hil.

  19. Comment by EricGu | 10.22.2005 | 4:12 am

    Okay, I found the real quote:Anyway, my best memory of Larry was of him teaching me how to talk smack on a bike.  We rode up the Zoo hill once.  He was just off my shoulder taunting me with each pedal stroke.  They where less than taunts and more like left handed compliments.  "Chorus compents are probably fine for you, I think Record would be a waste of money with your climbing skills, good call" It still makes me chuckle today.  I have to use those lines sometime.  Then at the switch back he just rode away.  Never saw him again until we hit the top.

  20. Comment by vanessa | 10.22.2005 | 9:01 am

    Hey FatCyclist…I read your journal on a regular basis… well, kind of. Definately on my favorites :D Not sure if you’ll respond to this, but I’m about to buy a new bike. I live in San Francisco and the rainy season is about to hit and I don’t want to quit riding ~ (Right now I’m on a 1970s Bianchi roadbike I scored from a yardsale) I’ve decided that I want to lay down some $$ on a rather light "rain bike" but I have no idea where to start… Have any suggestions?

  21. Comment by pete | 10.22.2005 | 11:26 am

    Toad, I absolutely love the idea of a Fat Cyclist vs Errorista cage-fight death-match. I think we could make a tidy profit on Pay-per-View.Today I should be out on a fund-raising ride with Sean Kelly, but it’s a littel bit rainy. And I’m far too lazy.

  22. Comment by Jodi | 10.22.2005 | 3:40 pm

    I’m soooooooooooo in! I’ll even duct tape one hand behind my back to make the cage-fight death-match fair…..c’mon faatttttyyyyyy…….A.Toad – you’re far too clever to be on my brother’s side. If it weren’t for your warning, he likely would have fallen for my diabolical plan….damn you!

  23. Comment by Ariane | 10.22.2005 | 3:58 pm

    BIG Mike– Shh! There’s no covert operatives here… None whatever… /whistles, side steps awayBy the way, thanks for clearing up the Coollabong/Coolibah tree… I wish I could say that now that the rest of the song makes complete sense to me, and yet… fatty– I think you can probably jump higher than your sis. Maybe you can vault yourself somewhere out of reach on the cage walls and wait for the timer to run out.Erroista– If he jumps up onto the cage, rattle it. I saw some dude do that on TV once…

  24. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 10.22.2005 | 4:13 pm

    Go on fatty, she’s only a girl. You’re not AFRAID of a girl, or are you?I’d pay to watch, and I promise not to laugh.

  25. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 10.22.2005 | 7:38 pm

    My favorite is after I smoked some lightweight on an uphill then shot downhill like a bullet, consoling him later that I did have to stand up in the pedals last time I pulled the uphill, but today I felt pretty good! I might also offer to help him with strength training for his legs and if he shows at the gym, do reps at 1000lbs+ on the leg machine. There ARE some advantages to dropping 272 pounds in 7 months, not the least of which, carrying all that fat, you develop ENORMOUSLY strong legs!

  26. Comment by Amber | 10.22.2005 | 10:24 pm

    I’m new to the blogging world and have seeing your link on umpteen sites, I decided to check it out. Great writing and inspirational cause! As a former travel writer from Utah who practically lived in Moab, you’ll have the time of your life! Keep at it….

  27. Comment by Unknown | 10.23.2005 | 6:06 am

    Dang, boy! You’re going to put me into cardiac arrest! Or clean undies. I got about as far as "Get Personal" before I was shouting at the screen, "Stoppppppp! I’m about to dampen my Depends!" I am still cracking up. You just get better and better. And I am beginning to understand men, too… LOLOL!!!Ahghanistantastic is, well, afghanistantastic! She does a great blog and brings it right home to Reality City. There is definitely no TV, but there sure is a lot of reality.You-know-whats,MuMo

  28. Comment by Christina | 10.23.2005 | 6:15 am

    Two more techniques: 1. "Ride Before the Ride" strategy–that person who makes sure everyone knows they rode like 900 miles TO a group ride’s starting point, crossing an international border on the way, but heck, they’re up for at least 500 more if everyone else is…2. "Senior Citizen Mystique"–those older cyclists in the NW who ride like 585 times a week, on some ancient, two-ton bicycle, and can turn the cranks non-stop from one end of the state to the other, with no labored breathing and no high tech beverages or foil-wrapped energy products. It’s their silence and minimalism that intimidates. No rustling noises of Clif Bars being packed into jackets. No talking really. No nothing. Just a pleasant smile and a once over of your ridiculously overpriced riding gear, and then back to their own simple set up, unchanged from 1972. And of course, the sound of endless spinning as they ride up hills as easily as Julie Andrews twirls down them.

  29. Comment by Douglas | 10.28.2005 | 9:15 pm

    Fatty, Hey, just one, though it is a pretty specific case.Gear Ratios: this form of trash talk generally occurs between single speed riders, but has also been known to occur between track riders, time trialists, triathletes (are we noticing a trend here?) and people who ride Brooks saddles.In particular, gear ratios indicate how much of a hardcore rider you are. So, the harder the ratio, the harder the person. It is a fine line between hard and stupid, often crossed. Don’t be confused by people who ride in the flats, you can’t compare the ratios of riders in Minnesota with that of riders in the mountains. Or maybe you can.My personal example goes something like this (and the names have not been changed to protect anyone; there are no innocents): as someone who is new to singlespeeding, I was telling my friend John what my gear ratio was, in the context of wondering what other people rode out here in Park City (it is 34:21, just to be clear). John looked at me, thought for a second, and then responded with: "Well, I thought about riding something along those lines once, but my coach tolk me: ‘women ride those gears.’"Brutal. Cold. Even used another’s words to cloak his biting criticism of my manhood. The worst part is that he isn’t even entirely accurate, the women who ride single speeds out here ride harder than a 34:21. I guess that the weak sauce I have been putting on my pasta isn’t condusive to being that cool.


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